Month: April 2016

Apr 21

Mentoring Teens

Working with teens can be a challenging and rewarding experience. In this workshop, experienced tutors/teen mentors Jake Troxell, Chris Van Nest, and Alana Johnston discuss the foundations and building blocks for establishing a successful relationship with older students. Topics include forging an initial connection, listening and questioning, and dealing constructively with challenges that may arise.

Apr 12

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 4/12/2016

Question: “I tutor a 6 year old at a public library. We have been meeting at the public tables near the computer area, and I find he is very easily distracted by whatever is going on. He doesn’t like to sit down and I can’t keep his attention for more than a few minutes. Also we have had difficulty with library etiquette–talking in quiet voices, not leaving papers or trash behind, etc. I don’t want to distract the other library patrons but there is no where else for us to meet.”

Setting behavioral expectations for younger students is often challenging, especially when a student has minimal or no preschool experience. To make a young student more engaged, I do my best to incorporate two things: consistency and interests.

For example, if possible, try to work in the same area of the library every time you have a session. This way the student starts understanding this is a “work area” and that there are different expectations for behavior in comparison to how he would act at home or somewhere else. It also helps to develop a consistent schedule. A possible session schedule could be:

(5 minutes) Review behavior expectations, play a quick game, and ask how he’s doing

(10 minutes) Work on reading/language arts homework

3 minute break – Does the student get an incentive for finishing his first assignment?

(10 minutes) Work on math homework

3 minute break

(10 minutes) Work on another assignment

(3 minutes) Review behavior expectations (Did he follow the rules? If not, what does he have to work on?)

Offering break times after completing assignments is crucial because students tend to be distracted after working for 10-15 minute periods. However, when implementing a break time, you need to set firm time limits. Using a phone or timer is helpful because when students hear the alarm, they understand that the break is over and that it’s time to work again.

You can also promote consistency by creating an ‘expectations chart’ that lists 3-4 rules for behaving in the library. For younger students, it’s important to keep rules short and concise and include many pictures in case they have trouble reading. Here is a good example of a rules list.

The second part to helping younger students become more engaged is incorporating their interests into the session. For example, if the student loves pirates, then pretend you’re on a treasure hunt when entering library. I tell my students that pirates have to be really quiet when they’re on a treasure hunt or else they will be caught and can’t get the treasure. At the end of the session if they’re showing a lot of perseverance and self-control, then you can give them a “treasure” as a reward. The treasure could be a sticker or free time or whatever else you want to use.

Have fun with your sessions! Remember, consistency is key!

About the Tutor: Natalie Platon has over seven years of experience working with K-12th grade students in different capacities and possesses a multiple subjects teaching credential. She has a deep passion for working in diverse and underserved communities and has worked in after-school programs, tutoring organizations, shelters, and schools. She currently works at KIPP Iluminar Academy in East LA as a full-time substitute teacher.

Have a question for our Ask a Tutor feature?
Email askatutor [at] or use the #AskATutor hashtag on any of our social media sites.

Apr 7

April 2016 Newsletter

April was full of events! April is National Volunteer Appreciation Month which gave us a chance to celebrate with all of our volunteers. Each regional coordinator held an appreciation event for their tutors. We also awarded over 50 President’s Service Awards to volunteers who contributed 100+ hours of service. We were very appreciative to be included in President Obama’s Education and Sharing Day when Jamba Juice donated over 100 smoothies to a partnering shelter. We also appreciated joining Ben & Jerry’s during Free Cone Day where we were able to raise funds for our kids.

Apr 4

Student-tutor bond helps Chynna succeed

chynna success chynna success2

“Where you are right now does not mean you will be there forever.  I was homeless and even at my lowest point my tutor pushed me in a nice way to keep up with school and focus on my future.  When I got the first acceptance letter to college I felt indebted to Katie, I don’t think I could have done it without her.” – Chynna Lloyd.

Chynna has received numerous acceptance letters for college and wants to study law.  College will be a financial burden for Chynna; she is currently applying for scholarships, including The Catherine McAuley Scholarship at School on Wheels. She agreed to share her story with us at the urging of her tutor Katie Balderas. Chynna does not want people’s pity, but her tutor explained that by telling her story she could show what she has overcome, and with other people’s help, there is so much more she can do.

Chynna was in 5th grade and her family had been homeless for a couple of years. Moving from place to place, she attended seven different schools by the time School on Wheels and her tutor Katie met her in 2009.  

Life and school had never been easy.  Chynna was embarrassed at school because she didn’t have the same things as the other kids and was teased because her clothes were old and didn’t fit. She was angry that her family couldn’t afford new clothes, but she was more upset about the fact that she couldn’t go to slumber parties or leave the Domestic Violence Shelter to play jump rope outside with her school friends who lived nearby. The shelter looked like all the other apartment complexes except that it had gates around it. Chynna never told her friends in the neighborhood why.  She was smart and got good grades but had missed a lot of school and knew she needed help catching up, especially in math.  She was determined to go to college.  

At first, Katie and Chynna bonded over music, Michael Jackson, Alicia Keys and their love of books. With the help of her School on Wheels tutor Katie, Chynna began to focus on school instead of her homelessness. They also had a shared frustration with math; over the months and years, they worked on mastering math together!

“I helped Chynna with study skills because they were  a challenge for her. Especially living in a shelter. I helped her prepare for tests and gave her tips to stay organized. I also helped her to advocate for herself at school. I attended her parent teacher conferences and asked her teachers for advice.   By asking for help at school,  I modeled  positive behavior for Chynna and she started staying after school to ask her teachers for help when she needed to.”

Seven years later,  this fearless duo has weathered personal triumphs and tribulations (the death of Chynna’s father, the birth of Katie’s first child and Chynna’s family finally finding permanent housing). Their friendship is deep:

“Chynna is a resilient, strong, and smart young woman and it’s been one of the biggest joys of my life to know her.  She was one of the first people I told when I found out I was pregnant and she was one of the first people to meet my son after he was born.”

“Katie’s heart is really pure; she is a beautiful person – inside and out. She is the type of person we need on this earth.”

“Being a School on Wheels tutor has helped me better understand the true challenges of living in poverty. I have a stronger sense of how important education is to help families break the cycle of poverty, but at the same time I now have an awareness of how poverty can make it so much harder to focus on education.”

We asked Chynna if she had any advice for other students experiencing homelessness:

“If you need help and you can get it, School on Wheels cares and will actually help you with school. Like Katie, School on Wheels finds the good in everyone.  Take all the help you can get and don’t be prideful; tutors are expensive and this program provides them for free!  I think School on Wheels is a great program.  They found me the perfect tutor. “

Chynna  graduates in June.  She has numerous college acceptances and is planning a career in law.

Katie is a Policy Analyst and has a master’s degree in public health.

Apr 4

Tutors of the Month – April 2016

Region 2 – South LA

– Doug O’Connell. Doug made a video describing his tutoring experience with School on Wheels. In the video, Doug says he is honored to be selected as a Tutor of the Month and is inspired by the success of his student, Nathan. Thank you for your dedication, Doug!

Skid Row Learning Center

Jessica Pacheco, School on Wheels Tutor of the Month

– Jessica Pacheco. We ask volunteers to give a minimum of one hour of their time each week and most tutors at the Skid Row Learning Center give two to three hours at a time. Then there is Ms. Jessica! Jessica came in needing to complete a certain amount of hours for a college class. Fifteen months later, Ms. Jessica is still helping and impacting the lives of children on Skid Row. She comes in two or three hours before the students arrive to help prepare, decorate, and organize the learning center. Then on an average day of tutoring, she often works with five to ten students spanning all ages. Throughout the Learning Center, you will find many signs of Jessica’s assistance and for that we are very grateful. She has been a part of our team for so long!

Allison Maldonado, Skid Row Learning Center Instructor

Region 1 – East LA, El Monte

Emily Alfaro, School on Wheels Tutor of the Month

– Emily Alfaro. Emily has been a dedicated tutor since May of last year. Even though she’s a high school student with a busy schedule, Emily is responsible and committed to her tutoring sessions. When talking to Madison’s mom, she had nothing but great things to say about Emily. Madison has improved since working with her tutor and is now an honor roll student. Great job, Emily! Here is what Emily had to say about her experience as a tutor:

“I found out about School On Wheels and could not wait to join. Education is very important to me and sharing my knowledge to help others brings me such joy. I enjoy being a School On Wheels tutor because it gives me an opportunity to help kids improve upon their education. The best part about being a School On Wheels tutor is seeing a student excel in her academics”.

Thank you for your dedication, Emily! Special thanks and appreciation to Patty Alfaro, Emily’s mother for taking her daughter each week to her tutoring sessions. Thank you, Patty!

Marisol Farfan, Regional Coordinator

Region 5 – Hollywood, Silver Lake, Highland Park

Sabrina Aguilar, School on Wheels Tutor of the Month

– Sabrina Aguilar. Sabrina has been a phenomenal tutor for School On Wheels since she started tutoring with us over a year ago. I can definitely count on her to take on a student in need, even with short notice. Sabrina’s background as a teacher definitely helps while tutoring and she does an amazing job making tutoring sessions interactive and engaging. It is a pleasure to get to work with you. Thank you for all you do!

I had been looking for volunteer opportunities and when I found School on Wheels I knew it was a perfect fit. Sokari is such a fun and sweet boy, it has been amazing to witness the progress he has made in such a short time. Working with Sokari has reminded me of the excitement of learning something new.

Lancella Hunter, Regional Coordinator

Region 7 – San Fernando Valley

Cindy Gunn, School on Wheels Tutor of the Month

– Cindy Gunn. Cindy started with School on Wheels in June of 2015. Since her start, she has been a fantastic tutor for her student Aranza by supporting her both academically and emotionally. Cindy stays in communication and updates me on any changes. Her time and dedication to tutoring have made a positive impact in Aranza’s life. I truly appreciate all that Cindy does! Here is what she wrote about her tutoring experience:

I perused a list of volunteer organizations sent by one of our state legislators and School on Wheels caught my interest. I went to the training and realized that I was an older volunteer. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to connect with a student. But then I started to think about my life experiences and how it might help. My parents divorced when I was eleven years old and for about one year we did not have a home. Were it not for the generosity of a friend we would have been on the street. After high school, I went to nursing school and received my RN. My husband was in the US Coast Guard which meant that we moved around the country, exposing me to different cultures and lifestyles. After much thought, I concluded that with all of these experiences in my life, I just might have something to offer as a School on Wheels volunteer. I was assigned to an 11 year old student, Aranza. I have been able to share some of my early experiences with her and show her that we all are able to overcome difficulties. I have had such a positive experience with School on Wheels and would encourage others to become a tutor, no matter their age.

Brianna Grothe, Regional Coordinator

Region 10 – South Orange County

Mark and Mellina Horner, School on Wheels Tutor of the Month

– Mark and Mellina Horner. We decided to become tutors after realizing that our work lives were taking over, and that we both wanted to have a feeling of giving back and doing something more meaningful with our after-work hours. Tutoring with School on Wheels has been a real blessing for us. It’s been a great experience to work with Isaiah and Isabel, and to see their grades improve. At the beginning of our tutoring together, we signed a “contract” that stated the goal grade for each subject and the reasons why doing well in school is important. It’s been great to see those goals achieved! They are a wonderful family and we are lucky to have the two of them as our students.

Lilian Pahn, Regional Coordinator

Region 12 – North Orange County

Aaron Cruz, School on Wheels Tutor of the Month

– Aaron Cruz. Aaron has been tutoring with School On Wheels since the beginning of the school year. During that time, he has been fortunate enough to work with the same student, Destiny. He has shown exceptional dedication and care for Destiny as he consistently goes above and beyond for her.

In regards to why Aaron began with School On Wheels: I am always looking to find ways to give back to the community. I began by donating blood to the American Red Cross. I am back in school for a degree in Business Administration and decided to use the extra time that I have to help those in need.

Laura Schickling, Regional Coordinator

Online Tutoring

Cathie Alter, School on Wheels Tutor of the Month

– Cathie Alter. Cathie joined School on Wheels in September of 2015. A retiree Cathie brings a wealth of real world experience to her tutoring sessions and her students describe her as “fun”, “caring”, and “super cool”. Cathie’s kindness, passion, and consistency are felt organization-wide, and we are a better team because of her contributions. Cathie — Thank you.

In her own words:

School on Wheels online tutoring program provides me with the opportunity to help children learn and share in the excitement of their success. I find this extremely rewarding.

At first, I didn’t feel connected with the students. I missed the nonverbal communication of in-person tutoring. I could see and hear the students, but I felt something was missing. That’s no longer true. I’ve adapted and now believe online tutoring is a great way to teach children. The children not only receive academic support, but they also have an opportunity to develop their computer skills. Most homeless children would not have this opportunity without the School on Wheels online tutoring program.

Ian Chan, Digital Learning Coordinator